Last month, Sheel Mohnot and Amruta Godbole got married. However, this was no ordinary wedding. The two said yes on the virtual platform Decentraland – and were sponsored by the fast food chain Taco Bell.
“It’s crazy and definitely not what we had in mind,” says Mohnot. But they didn’t want a classic wedding either. Mohnot is a huge Taco Bell fan, so the couple entered a competition to have the company pay for the technical aspects of a virtual wedding — the avatars, production, and more. You won and got a free wedding. In return, the company has placed its brand everywhere.
For Taco Bell, the promotion was not only a marketing opportunity, but also a response to the wishes of its fans. In the chapel of the Taco Bell Cantina in Las Vegas, 800 couples have married and there have already been virtual copycats. “Taco Bell saw fans of the brand interacting in the metaverse and decided to literally meet them where they were,” says a spokesperson. For the newlyweds with Indian roots, that meant dancing hot sauce packages, a taco bell-style dance floor, a virtual turban for Mohnot and the company’s purple bells everywhere.
Virtual World: Things that are not possible in normal weddings
Putting aside the flashy branding — a compromise some couples are willing to make for the company’s help in building and customizing a digital platform — virtual weddings allow for things that physical weddings can’t. For example, Mohnot, in avatar form, rode an elephant into the ceremony for his baraat, a pre-wedding Indian procession for the groom. That would be much more difficult to arrange at an in-person celebration. Especially in San Francisco, where the two live.
However, the technical implementation was not that easy. Mohnot and Godbole, who both work in tech, had to set up a live stream of themselves on YouTube to meet the legal requirement that their real faces be visible. That’s because in the US, some jurisdictions, including Utah, where their wedding speaker was based, only recognize remote weddings as legally binding if the participants can be seen on video.
Virtual weddings are in high demand
For many couples that might be too much effort. The pandemic had created an urgent need for virtual weddings, but traditional, in-person ceremonies have reasserted themselves over the past year. Around 2.5 million weddings were held in 2022, up from 1.3 million in 2020, according to trade group Wedding Report.
Why even get married in the metaverse? Some are drawn to the lower cost, says Klaus Bandisch, who runs Hawaii-based wedding organizer Just Maui Weddings. He says his company, which organizes weddings in both real and virtual worlds, is booked up for ceremonies at the Metaverse several months in advance.
“We have 120 people on call and do at least two Metaverse weddings a week,” says Bandisch. “A vow renewal package costs around $1,000, and if the couple wants avatars, we charge $300 per person.” That’s very affordable compared to a traditional US wedding, which averaged $30,000 in 2022, according to wedding magazine The Knot.
Of course, it is even cheaper if the wedding ceremony is sponsored by a brand. Mohnot and Godbole are far from the only couple to have discovered this. The Virbela platform hosted a virtual ceremony for two employees, Dave and Traci Gagnon, in 2021. Another couple had their vow renewal ceremony sponsored by Rose Law Group, a law firm with an office in the Metaverse. And a third couple in India have found a range of sponsors for their Metaverse wedding, including Coca-Cola.
The Pros and Cons of Metaverse Weddings
Metaverse weddings allow family members to attend without having to travel long distances. For Traci Gagnon, a particularly emotional part of her virtual wedding was being walked down the aisle by a friend who had terminal cancer and was unable to travel. “She danced all night,” she says. “It was so fun and beautiful.”
A definite downside to metaverse weddings, however, is their lack of, well… realism. Weddings are very sensual experiences; the scent of the flowers, the sound of the music, the hugs and kisses, the laughter and the tears. Much of this cannot be picked up in a virtual environment. As a result, a metaverse wedding can feel less like a wedding and more like an interactive video game.
Couples, on the other hand, say the downside of the lack of physical experience is outweighed by the presence of their loved ones. Traci Gagnon mentioned the overwhelming sense of connection with her guests, despite the fact that they didn’t share the same physical space.
Even the distracting aspects of virtual reality were appealing to Godbole and Mohnot. “One kid ran across the screen during the ceremony, which was totally fine,” says Godbole. “It was more interactive than a normal wedding where you sit in silence and nothing happens. In this case, you could simultaneously express your own emotions through your avatar and didn’t have to interrupt anything.”
But the question remains: Do you really feel married after the virtual avatars have taken their vows and kissed? Mohnot and Godbole said they were surprised by the intensity of their feelings following their virtual ceremony. “I thought it would be a fun, random thing to add to our list of unique experiences,” says Godbole. “But it was a lot more real than I expected.”